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Florida Panthers, Sergei Bobrovsky Survive ‘Twilight Zone’ Night

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Aaron Ekblad celebrates his second goal of the night with his Florida Panthers teammates as they rolled to a 9-5 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

SUNRISE — When Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky gave up three goals on the first three shots he faced, he knew after that “you cannot come up with a good game.’’

Things turned out pretty well for the Panthers — and Bobrovsky — in a game coach Paul Maurice compared to the ‘Twilight Zone.’

“I have never seen anything like that. In 25 years, never seen that many goals,’’ Maurice said following Florida’s wild ride in a 9-5 win against the Canadiens.

“There were more goals than chances to score and that is a rarity. All I can say is it affected the game for both teams and I do not think anything on video is useful to the game of hockey.

“It was almost Twilight Zone: Every puck went in. I don’t know what the shots were — maybe 15 — and there were nine goals. There were more goals than scoring chances. The positive is we scored nine. Those games are the most difficult ones to win, the ones you’re supposed to win. They played the same game (Tuesday) and beat Pittsburgh.”

The Panthers, fighting for their postseason lives, did give up three goals on three shots to Montreal.

But those three shots only tied the score at 3 in a wild game in which the Vegas Over/Under was hit midway through the first period.

Yeah, the first.

The two teams combined for 10 goals in the opening frame.

“Crazy. If you want to sum it up, there it is. It was pretty wild,’’ said Aaron Ekblad, who along with Carter Verhaeghe scored twice on Thursday. “You don’t see that many goals too often in the first period. I’m happy we were on the right side of it.”

The Panthers had seven of those goals to set a franchise record for most goals in a single period.

They were good to go.

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“The two points? That is the most important thing at this time of the year,” said Bobrovsky, whose team scored nine against two different Montreal goalies who played at three different times.

“You are not going to hold a team to one goal throughout the season. It was definitely not an easy game to play, but games like this make you mentally stronger. … But I still tried to enjoy the environment, I have a great group of guys and enjoy playing hockey and playing in the NHL. That mindset helped me get back and make some big saves.”

This was, to be honest, the kind of game the Panthers would have lost a few months ago.

Bobrovsky was not exactly at the top of his game — although a couple of the first three goals really were not his fault — and the Panthers could have crawled into a shell as the undermanned Canadiens kept coming at them.

Only the Panthers kept firing shots either at Sam Montembeault or Jake Allen or and everything, seemingly, kept going in.

It was not until Montembeault (the former Panthers’ goalie) came back in late in the second in which Montreal’s bleeding stopped.

By then, it was too late.

“A win is a win at this time of the year,’’ said Matthew Tkachuk, who ended up with a goal and three assists. “We have to clean up a bunch of things but at the end of the day, we scored a bunch of goals. We did some good things as well.”

The win pulled Florida within three points of both the Penguins and Islanders for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference as it looks more and more like the Panthers are going to make a legitimate run at the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Florida has 14 games left and needs about 20 of the 28 points out there to make it — and it looks like they have the gumption to make a serious run at one of these playoff spots.

Listen, Thursday night was not pretty by any means.

But it was fun.

These Panthers have not been a whole lot of fun this season but they have been lately.

Even Bobrovsky was smiling after a difficult outing on Thursday night.

The Panthers dealt with adversity on Thursday night and fought back. A few months — or even weeks ago — they might have given up in a game such as this.

”Yeah, we could have been down,’’ Bobrovsky said, “but our team showed its resilience, showed some character. This was a big two points for us. That is all that matters right now. We are in the race right now.’’

Bobrovsky will be back in net Saturday against the Devils.

With his openness in talking about the Montreal game, expect him to put on some sort of show against New Jersey.

Florida goes into that game against the Devils with points in each of their past five games, winning four of them outright.

The Panthers have been picking up some ground lately but they will have to be tighter moving forward than they were in a game more than one player described as a ‘shitshow.’

Hey, this win counts regardless of how it happened.

Tkachuk admitted he had not been a part of a game like this since his days playing for the London Knights of the Ontario junior Hockey League.

“An All-Star Game has more defense,” Tkachuk joked.

Added Maurice: “There are very few times I come out here and don’t know what I’m going to say. Tonight is one of them. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life; there wasn’t a guy behind our bench — and I guarantee a guy behind their bench — who had ever seen anything like that. So, we’ll just leave it at this: We really needed to win that game. We put up nine, won the game, and got out healthy.’’

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